22nd Feb 2024

Migrant return bill 'obstructed' as EU states mull new position

  • The EU's statistical office, Eurostat, says of the 342,100 people ordered to leave in 2021, only 24 percent were actually returned (Photo: Investigative Reporting Project Italy (IRPI))
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EU states may drop their 2019 position on a bill on returning rejected migrants and instead put forward new ideas that include "innovative solutions" to work around illegal pushbacks.

The move comes as internal negotiations on the return directive at the European Parliament grind to a near halt amid obstructions from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), according to a parliament source.

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A second source, an EU official, has since confirmed that several EU states have discussed pushing for a new Council position, representing member states, in the next 2024-2029 legislature.

That would mean any such new position could fall under the EU presidencies of anti-asylum Hungary and Denmark — as well as a new European Parliament likely composed of more MEPs on the right of the political divide.

It could also possibly scupper the 2018 European Commission reform of bill and usher in more restrictive measures.

This includes yet to be detailed "innovative solutions as regards the principle of non-refoulement" [ie not sending people back to countries where they may be at risk of persecution or torture] and entails speedy procedures that use "current and future IT systems."

Such ideas were outlined in an internal email, citing the SCIFA (Strategic Committee on Immigration, Frontiers and Asylum) working group in the council that deals with migration, and seen by EUobserver.

It notes the move could come pending a possible "European return decision", as well as a possible revision of the 2008 returns directive.

MEP talks hit wall

And it also comes as MEPs working on the file in the European Parliament remain at odds despite years of tough talks.

The EPP's lead MEP on the file is Nadine Morano from France. Morano has yet to respond to an email from EUobserver on the issue, as of publication.

But MEPs dealing with the file had almost reached an agreement until the EPP issued a series of red lines that have effectively blocked talks, according to a parliament source.

Several of the ideas proposed by the EPP had also apparently not matched those put forward by Morano, leading to further confusion and delays.

The EPP had also refused to lower the duration of detention from 18 months, a concession that they managed to obtain as part of a wider compromise, says the source.

But they then later introduced new red lines whereby anyone that entered the EU irregularly would be labeled as an absconding risk, says the source.

They would then be immediately detained, slapped with an entry ban, and denied any chance of a so-called voluntary departure, says the source.

This comes despite the European Commission's original proposal demanding voluntary returns be prioritised.

And it still poses questions on how those returns would be carried out when origin countries refuse to issue travel documents.

It is also at odds with the European Parliament's lead MEP on the file, Tineke Strik, a Dutch Green.

Strik, in her draft report on the directive, says voluntary return is cost-effective and easier to organise. She also took issue with slapping an entry ban on those who have been given an option for a voluntary return.

"Why leave the territory in time on a voluntary basis if that is not rewarded with the possibility to re-enter?," notes her report, which also proposed to reinforce procedural safeguards.

The EU's statistical office Eurostat says of the 342,100 people ordered to leave in 2021, only 24 percent were actually returned.

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After years of negotiations, EU states finally reached a political agreement on asylum in order to start negotiations with the European Parliament. But a closer look at the details behind last week's agreement, reveals a new recipe for pushbacks.


Asylum seekers appealing returns must get own travel documents

The European Commission wants to increase the return rates of rejected asylum seekers, following pressure from EU states. But the reforms proposed seek to increase detention, and put people who are appealing their decisions at risk.


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This week, EU and Chinese leaders will meet in Beijing to discuss how to cooperate in the international area despite their rivalry. Meanwhile, a marathon trilogue on the five migration files takes place on Thursday.


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